From coding wizards and environmental champs, many impressive teens are making waves out there. Young leaders are changing our world for the better with innovation, defying age-old stereotypes and redefining what it means to be a teenager in the 21st century. This list is packed with the most influential teens who are proving age is just a number when it comes to making a difference.
50 Most Influential Young Leaders of 2023
In a world brimming with innovation, change, and boundless potential, the sphere of leadership is continuously evolving. As we step into 2023, we come across rising stars whose passion, vision, and unwavering dedication have propelled them to the forefront of global impact. The below list of the most influential young leaders of 2023 represents a celebration of their remarkable contributions, their groundbreaking initiatives, and their profound influence on our rapidly transforming world.
1. Sophie Cruz
Sophie Cruz’s parents are undocumented immigrants from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico and that’s the main reason why Cruz’s activism is geared toward ensuring the continuance of the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) program, which would allow her parents to remain in the United States legally.
At five years old, Sophie went to Washington DC to be part of the crowd welcoming Pope Francis who was visiting on behalf of undocumented immigrants. In an attempt to help her parents and others like them, she wrote the Pope a letter of hope and wore a t-shirt that said Papa Rescate DAPA.
Jordan Reeves is 17 years old and has spent most portion of her life on a mission to raise awareness and drive action to support young people with physical disabilities worldwide. She is the co-founder of the non-profit, Born Just Right, and through public speaking and mentoring other kids with limb differences, Jordan is working to change attitudes around physical differences.
She is also designing a 3D-printed prosthetic that allows her to shoot biodegradable sparkles for her alter ego, Glitter Girl. Jordan has shown off her work on The Rachael Ray Show, MakerFaire, TEDx, AIGA, Parson’s Design School, and many other events across the country. Her invention and ideology made her into the list of the most influential teens of 2023.
3. Marley Dias
Marley Dias is a purpose-driven 18-year-old founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks and author of Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You. She is also the Ambassador of the National Educational Association (NEA), Read Across America host, and the Executive Producer of Netflix’s Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices. Being an American activist and writer, she is one of the most influential teens.
Marley has spoken at the White House’s United States of Women alongside Michelle Obama and Oprah, The Forbes Women’s Summit, United Nation’s Girl Up, Inbound, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, the Social Innovation Summit, and several others.
4. Orion Jean
Orion Jean is an American author and philanthropist who was named Time Kid of the Year. He is the founder of the Race to Kindness program in which he donates meals, books, and toys to children. In 2021, he donated 100,000 meals and more than 600 toys to Children’s Hospital in North Texas. He believes that everyone can make a difference and is committed to inspiring and empowering people of all ages to be kind to each other, no matter what.
Orion is working tirelessly to grow his platform for The Race to Kindness. He has also written a book, A Kid’s Book about Leadership, and has started a speaking career. He is definitely one of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20.
Jahkil Jackson is a young author, youth advocate, social entrepreneur, and founder of Project I Am, a nonprofit organization he created when he was eight years old. Jahkil has a heartfelt desire to help those in need and aims to build awareness of homelessness and to help the homeless population by offering Blessing Bags, a giveaway filled with masks, wipes, socks, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and more. In just a few years, his efforts have helped nearly 50,000 men, women, and children internationally.
6. Yola Mgogwana
Yola Mgogwana is a South African climate activist from Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Her activism started in 2019, when she was eleven years old after she became concerned about pollution, unusual weather patterns, and a looming water crisis in her country. She has been an inspiration for youth in Africa to join her in her fight for climate justice. Along with Kiara Nirghin and Ruby Sampson, she has been hailed as South Africa’s answer to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, becoming one of the most influential teens.
In 2019, she participated in a climate action project organized by the African Climate Alliance in partnership with Fridays for Future. She seized this opportunity to create awareness about the dangers of climate change in over 2,000 learners in Cape Town.
7. Ryan Hickman
Ryan Hickman is a 14-year-old global icon for recycling awareness and he has recycled over one million cans and bottles with the goal of inspiring people around the world and keeping trash out of our oceans and landfills. He donates proceeds to marine mammal rescue efforts and he leads weekly beach clean up events in his community. Ryan is the president of Ryan’s Recycling Company and he just launched his new, nonprofit organization: Project3R which will focus on recycling education and awareness around the world.
8. Mari Copeny
Next on the list of the most influential teens is Mari Copeny. She is a 16-year-old from Flint, Michigan known globally as Little Miss Flint. She first entered the public spotlight when her letter to President Obama about the water crisis prompted him to visit the city and survey the water crisis for himself. That visit ultimately led to him approving 100 million dollars in relief for the city of Flint.
She also works with We Vote Next (formerly Eighteenx18) and used her platform to bring awareness to the water crisis. Mari has raised over $700,000 for her Flint Kids projects including giving out over 19,000 backpacks stuffed with school supplies.
At 11, Mikaila Ulmer from Texas has built a lemonade empire hoping to save honey bees in the process. She decided she would sell lemonade and she started her company, Me & the Bees Lemonade. Her special lemonade recipe came from her great-grandmother’s cookbook. She added honey to it, instead of sugar, to call attention to the problems honey bees face.
Mikaila sells lemonade almost every day at her lemonade stand and she takes every opportunity to tell her customers about the issues faced by honey bees. What began as a small operation is starting to grow. BeeSweet is projected to sell almost 140,000 bottles of lemonade every year.
10. Kamaria Warren
At age seven, Kamaria Warren and her mom realized the necessity and hatched an invention, and Brown Girls Stationery was born. That set the McDonough, Georgia, native on the route to creating party and school supplies, stationery, vegan purses, and accessories for girls. Warren sells her products on Shopify, Faire Marketplace, wholesale, and at local events. On average, Warren sells some 10,000 notebooks, 2,500 notepads, and 1,500 backpacks each year.
11. Bana al-Abed
Al-Abed’s Twitter account was created on 24 September 2016. Twitter has verified Al-Abed’s account, indicating that an account of public interest is authentic. She sent messages through Twitter documenting the siege of the city, proving to be one of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20. Most of these tweets have documented issues such as airstrikes, destruction, hunger, displacement, the prospect of her and her family’s death, and her longing for a peaceful childhood. Her account had nearly 370,000 followers and was managed by Bana’s mother Fatemah.
12. Simone Hufana
Simone created her brand out of a desire to see more representation of women of color in the world. Her coloring books introduce young girls to the amazing women that inspired her to love herself. She won Shopify’s youth-focused BEASTMODE-A-Business competition in 2017 when she launched ColorHerstory.
Also Read: Which Shopify Plan is Best for a Beginner?
13. Pria Sawhney
During the pandemic, Pria became aware that hospitals had shockingly low levels of hand hygiene compliance, contributing to hospital-acquired infections and costing over $28 billion annually. So she designed a decolorizing verifiable hand sanitizer called Vizuell which is colored when the first component is applied; then, a second component rapidly decolorizes the sanitizer. Pria was awarded the 2022 Edison Student Innovation Gold Medal for her work.
14. Gitanjali Rao
Gitanjali Rao is an inventor, author, social activist, and STEM student and advocate. She won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017 and was recognized on Forbes 30 Under 30 for her innovations. Moreover, She was named B for her innovations and workshops that she conducts across the globe. On December 4, 2020, she was featured on the cover of Time and named their first Kid of the Year. Therefore, she is one of the most influential young leaders of 2023.
15. Gabby Goodwin
Gabby Goodwin and her mother worked together to design a new type of hair clip, the Double-Faced Double Snap Barrette that stayed put no matter how hard kids played during the day. They then founded GaBBy Bows and Goodwin became the company’s CEO. In addition to her unique barrettes, Goodwin has founded Confidence by GaBBy, a plant-based hair care system designed to make it easier for moms to do their daughters’ hair.
16. Kenan Pala
Kenan Pala founded the non-profit Kids4Community when he was just 11 years old. His primary goal was to encourage other children his age and younger to get involved in their communities. Kenan’s first major charitable project was setting the Guinness World Record for the largest mosaic created using cardboard boxes in 2016. The world record allowed Kenan to engage with his fellow students for the project efficiently.
17. Tilak Mehta
Tilak Mehta is the founder of Papers and Parcels, an app-based digital courier company that provides one-day parcel services. He collaborated with the Mumbai Dabbawalas to ensure the same-day delivery of goods at a low cost within the region of Mumbai, becoming one of the most influential teens. The company offers door-to-door pick-up and delivery services even for small items including pens, important paperwork, and many other items.
Also Read: How Long Does Chewy Take to Ship?
18. Cory Nieves
Cory Nieves is the founder and CEO of Mr. Cory’s Cookies. As a teenager, he sensed an opportunity and started searching for the perfect cookie recipe. Soon, he and his mom began taking their cookies everywhere. Today, the company has over 14 flavors and has grown to earn a $1 million net worth.
Teens Who Changed the World Before Turning 20
19. Kelvin Doe
At the age of 13, Kelvin Doe created batteries and generators using materials he picked up from rubbish bins and used them to light up homes in his neighborhood. It took numerous tries before Doe finally had a functioning prototype for the battery; a combination of soda, acid, and metal, wrapped together by tape. In 2012, he launched a one-young-man radio station and broadcast to the residents where he as DJ Focus provides news and plays music to his surrounding community.
At 16, he became the youngest individual in history to be invited to the Visiting Practitioner’s Program at MIT. Through the help of MIT, he attended New York for the 2012 World Maker Faire, where he sat on a Meet the Young Makers panel with 4 American discoverers.
20. Isra Hirsi
Isra Hirsi is an American environmental activist who co-founded and served as the co-executive director of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. In 2020, she was named in the Fortune’s 40 Under 40 Government and Politics list. She has made it her goal to help make the world a better place for all from a young age and has used her passion for issues as a way to channel her advocacy to help change the world.
Hirsi has achieved many of her accomplishments independently and led hundreds of students across the United States in the School Strike for Climate, where students abstained from school on Fridays to participate in various demonstrations and protests.
21. Greta Thunberg
There is no doubt that Greta Thunberg is among the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20. She is a Swedish environmental activist known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change. In September 2018, she missed school to sit outside the country’s parliament with a sign, School Strike for Climate. Her action inspired thousands of students around the world to participate in their own Fridays for Future and raise awareness for climate change.
After that, she gave speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the European Parliament in front of the legislatures of Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. She was also credited with raising awareness about Asperger syndrome and inspiring those who had the disorder.
In 2010, Nicholas was preparing a service project but soon he realized that his dream is to provide homeless children with new footwear to keep their feet safe from injuries. That is when he decided to start the nonprofit, Gotta Have Sole Foundation, to create a sustainable organization to make change. Nicholas and his community collected new shoes by contacting footwear manufacturers for donations and served over 400 children in Rhode Island during the first year of his initiative.
Being one of the most influential teens, he received numerous awards for his foundation such as the Nickelodeon HALO Award, a Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, and a Jefferson Award for Public Service.
23. Dhruv Gupta
Dhruv Gupta is the founder of NorCal Robotics which aims to help, create, and mentor teams of young competitors. The organization had a successful first year by guiding 13 teams to success, one of which was crowned champion of Northern California. During the Pandemic, it shifted its work to online sessions providing a variety of STEM classes, creating a curriculum, organizing volunteers, and teaching itself to ensure equal coverage for all students across society.
To date, NorCal has taught over 2000 young learners, helped create over 40 robotics teams, and sponsored 500 students for STEM competitions.
24. Jazz Jennings
Jazz Jennings is a YouTube personality, spokesmodel, television personality, and LGBT rights activist. She is one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as transgender and received national attention in 2007 when an interview with Barbara Walters aired on 20/20, leading to other high-profile interviews and appearances. Christine Connelly, a member of the board of directors for the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth, stated that she was the first young person who picked up the national spotlight and was able to articulate her perspective.
Jennings is an honorary co-founder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which her parents founded in 2007 to assist transgender youth. In 2013, she founded Purple Rainbow Tails, a company in which she fashions rubber mermaid tails to raise money for transgender children.
Also Read: 16 Best Gay Dating Apps for LGBT Youth
25. Valkyrie Holmes
In the last two years, Valkyrie Holmes cofounded Faura, a company that focused on solving problems within the wildfire industry. Previously, she interned at SpaceX and NASA in electrical engineering and data science and has been building in both the wildfire prevention and suppression space. She recently became a 776 Climate Fellow and has dedicated the next two years to fighting climate change and growing Ember Bazaar full-time.
She attended Ed W Clark HS from 2010 to 2022, where they earned a High School Diploma with a field of study in AMSAT. She also received the Women in Tech: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Scholarship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from June to September 2021. She is one of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20.
26. Zuriel Oduwole
Zuriel Oduwole is known for her development work across the globe, advocating for girl’s education, including across the African continent and the Caribbean region. In 2013, at the age of 10, she was profiled in Forbes Magazine, and by 2015, she was listed among 33 women who had changed the world by ELLE Magazine.
Calling her the world’s most powerful girl in January 2017, the US Secretary of State – Rt Hon John Kerry honored her in Washington DC at the State Department for her tireless work advocating against child marriages and speaking for girls’ education. She has even met one-on-one with over 30 World Leaders to address Global Social Development and Education Challenges that children and teenagers face.
27. Maya Penn
Maya Penn is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, animator, artist, and the CEO of her eco-friendly fashion company Maya’s Ideas. She started her company in 2008 at the age of 8. She has spoken at the TEDWomen event in San Francisco, which was streamed live on TED.com, and has done 2 official TED Talks and 1 TEDx Talk. Her ideology made her into the list of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20.
Maya is the creator of an animated series called The Pollinators which focuses on the importance of bees and other pollinators. She premiered a clip of The Pollinators and another animated series called Malicious Dishes at TEDWomen 2013.
28. Asia Newson
Asia Newson started her business, Super Business Girl, by selling candles she bought wholesale from a distributor when she was only 5 years old. She is Detroit’s Youngest Entrepreneur and after several years, she is still creating and selling candles. Her business has since grown into Super Business Girl, a workshop-based mentorship program. The company, of which she is cofounder and CEO, gives back to children just like her so that they can learn how to become entrepreneurs too. From the proceeds of the sales, Newson buys school supplies and purchases food and clothing for less fortunate kids.
29. Moziah Bridges
Moziah Bridges is the 18-year-old President and Creative Director of Mo’s Bows Handmade Bow Ties – a brand that sells bow ties, neckties, pocket squares, and other apparel. He started Mo’s Bows, by first learning to sew and then making the colorful bowties with leftovers from his grandmother’s sewing projects.
He appeared on Shark Tank and has sold more than $700,000 in handmade men’s ties and accessories. He once gave then-President Barack Obama a custom-made tie in Obama Blue, and his company also produced bowties and neckties for all 30 National Basketball Association teams.
30. Mihir Garimella
Mihir Garimella builds low-cost flying robots for search and rescue and emergency response. The idea is that a drone can be on the ground more quickly and in more dangerous conditions than a human, especially if it’s built cheaply enough to be disposable. One such robot, FlyBot, had a design inspired by a fruit fly and won Garimella first prize in the 13-14 age category and the Google Computer Science Award at the Google Global Science Fair suggesting that if you’re a budding entrepreneur, working hard for your school science fair can be a good place to start.
31. Rachel Zietz
Rachel Zietz, a 13-year-old entrepreneur, founded Gladiator Lacrosse in 2012. The idea for Gladiator Lacrosse came from Rachel’s disappointment with the quality, cost, and lack of selection of current product offerings. Participating in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy Program (co-sponsored by Florida Atlantic University and Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce) gave Rachel the idea to start a business that would provide high-quality lacrosse equipment at an affordable price; thus, Gladiator Lacrosse was born.
32. Benjamin Stern
Benjamin Stern got a job at 14 to raise money to fund the single-use shampoo pods, wrapped in biodegradable plant-based packaging. At the age of 16, with help from his family, he launched a company to produce it. Nohbo shampoo balls are solid until mixed with water so that they can’t leak into your bag or cause difficulties at airport security.
Being eco-friendly is at the heart of the product, Stern notes that the balls are all plant-based, animal and cruelty-free, and paraben and sulfate free so the website also encourages donations to the US charity the Conservation Fund.
Yelitsa Jean-Charles launched her brand Healthy Roots Dolls in 2014, leveraging resources and networks at college. The company has since raised $1.5 million in funding, secured a partnership with Procter & Gamble, and recently landed a deal with Target.
34. Brandon and Sebastian Martinez
Brothers Brandon Martinez and Sebastian Martinez founded Are You Kidding Socks which designs and sells funky, creative socks to elevate people’s style. The company also helps a wide range of charitable causes from their collections that go to nonprofits including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Amigos for Kids, and many pediatric cancer organizations. In 2014, Are You Kidding also launched its Kids Helping Kids initiative and began partnering with schools across the United States to provide socks and other tools for school fundraisers.
Zandra Cunningham is the founder of Zandra, an award-winning plant-based artisan skincare product range for teenage skin, and has started a nationwide launch of her new brand of women’s face care products called Zandra 18. She is one of the youngest internationally recognized formulators and plant-based skincare moguls.
36. Armaan Thakker
After suffering a multi-ligament knee injury, Armaan worked for two years to develop a solution. By using Graph Neural Networks (GNN), Armaan and the team were able to cluster unstructured hospital data to predict sepsis within a matter of 48 hours rather than the standard 1-week time. He published this research as a paper that was nominated for IEEE’s Big Data conference.
Langston Whitlock is the co-founder and CIO of Safe Trip, a ride-sharing app focused on helping the homeless and the elderly. Patients, caretakers, and healthcare providers can use the app to book medical transportation. The company has raised $2 million, with $3.4 million in revenue.
Isabella Rose Taylor is the youngest designer to have worked at the New York Fashion Week. She is now collaborating with Poetter Barn Teen, which is a home furnishing company. She also partnered with the company in 2017 to create her bedroom studio collection, which is inspired by her love for art.
39. Advait Thakur
Advait is a young tech entrepreneur who founded his own tech company Apex Infosys when he was 12 years old. The company is now a global technology and innovation company that specializes in IoT-related services and products, AI, and Health Tech sectors. Advait is also the youngest Google, Bing, and Hubspot Certified Professional.
Benjamin Kapelushnik is an entrepreneur and sneaker reseller and at 16 years old, Kapelushnik earned nearly US$1 million in sales through his self-made sneaker business and attracted high-profile clients such as DJ Khaled and Odell Beckham Jr.
41. Logan Guleff
Next on the list of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20 is Logan Guleff. He is a cookbook author, entrepreneur, and owner of Logan’s Underground Supper Club. In 2014, he became the winner of the second season of the American reality cooking competition MasterChef Junior. In 2016, Guleff was listed in Time Magazine’s 30 Most Influential Teens as a rising star in the culinary world.
42. Ben Pasternak
Benjamin Pasternak is the co-founder and CEO of Simulate, an American food technology company, that has raised US$57M in investment to date. Simulate’s signature product, Nuggs, was launched in July 2019.
43. Joshua Williams
Joshua Williams is a now 18-year-old boy who lives in Miami. When he was only 4 years old, he founded the Joshua’s Heart Foundation (JFH) in 2005 with the help of his family and a couple of close friends. JFH has two main goals: to stomp out world hunger and break the cycle of poverty. Also, he educates communities and raises awareness of hunger and hunger-related issues.
44. Avi Schiffman
Former iD Tech camper and successful website developer, Avi Schiffman created a widely praised COVID-19 tracking website at the outset of the pandemic last year. Since then, he added a vaccine tracker and helped thousands of individuals get up-to-the-minute data and vital information. This made his way into the list of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20.
45. Emma Gonzalez
Emma González is an American activist and advocate for gun control. In 2018, they survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, and, in response, co-founded the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD. González gave a viral speech against gun violence, proclaiming We call B.S. on the lack of action by politicians funded by the NRA.
Easton LaChappelle is the Founder and CEO of Unlimited Tomorrow, a company that creates ultra-personalized advanced prosthetic devices at a fraction of the cost of traditional prosthetics. LaChappelle founded the company along with Tony Robbins in 2014. By harnessing the power of 3D printing, 3D scanning, 3D modeling, and virtual communications, Unlimited Tomorrow is revolutionizing the prosthetics industry. The company has partnered with Siemens, HP, Microsoft, and many others.
Also Read: 26 Best 3D Modeling Software
47. Jaylen Arnold
Jaylen Arnold is the founder and creator of Jaylens Challenge Foundation, Inc. He created the concept at the age of 8 after being bullied for having Tourette’s Syndrome. He decided to take a bold stand, and with the help of a few adults, he devised a plan to create a website to educate the public about his disorders and the prevalence of bullying in schools and workplaces across the globe.
48. Ann Makosinski
Makosinski was 15 when she invented a flashlight powered by body heat for the Google Science Fair in 2013. Following her win at the Google Science Fair and multiple guest appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Andini’s career as a STEAM ambassador took off as her life went viral and became one of the most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20.
49. Boyan Slat
Boyan Slat is a Dutch inventor and entrepreneur who discontinued his aerospace engineering studies at TU Delft to devote his time to developing his idea. He founded The Ocean Cleanup in 2013, and shortly after, his TEDx talk went viral after being shared on several news sites.
Jack Thomas Andraka is an American who, as a high school student, won the Gordon E. Moore Award at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with a method to possibly detect the early stages of pancreatic and other cancers. In 2018, as a junior majoring in anthropology and electrical engineering at Stanford University, he was awarded the Truman Scholarship for his graduate studies.
Reflecting upon the incredible achievements of these most influential teens who changed the world before turning 20, one can’t help but feel optimistic about the future they’re shaping. Stay tuned to Techcult for more such articles.